Fred Clark at Patheos reminds us that today is the day that Robert Carter III filed his deed of emancipation at the Northumberland District Court in 1791.
Regular readers of this blog will know that Robert Carter wrote what he called a “deed of gift” that set in motion the largest emancipation of slaves in the United States prior to the Civil War. Carter’s deed listed 452 slaves to be emancipated throughout the remainder of Carter’s life. To see parts of the six page deed, click here. See the image below for the filing date.
Carter, a Virginia plantation owner, became convinced that slavery was morally wrong and put his beliefs into action. David Barton claims in his book The Jefferson Lies that fellow Virginia slave owner Thomas Jefferson was unable to free his slaves due to Virginia law. On the contrary, Robert Carter relied on the Virginia’s 1782 law allowing owners to emancipate slaves via a deed recorded at the county court house. Barton modified his claim somewhat on the Glenn Beck show in mid-August by saying that Virginia law required owners who freed their slaves to provide a security bond for their care. To date, he has produced no evidence for this claim.
Carter’s story is an inconvenient truth for Barton and his fans. In the sad history of slavery, Carter is a brighter light, a true hero of his times. Yet, until recently, there has been little attention to him. Andrew Levy’s book on Carter (The First Emancipator: The Forgotten Work of Robert Carter the Founding Father Who Freed His Slaves) helps to correct this but, on the other hand, Barton’s book on Jefferson serves to obscure Carter’s legacy. Levy’s observation about the place of Robert Carter in history is relevant:
It becomes difficult to argue that the founding fathers acted liberally within their own moral universe when small slave owners up and down the Virginia coast were freeing their slaves. It becomes impossible, however, to make that argument when one of their peers commits the same radical act. Similarly, the argument that there existed no practical plan for mass emancipation makes sense only if Robert Carter’s Deed of Gift is suppressed within the historical record.
David Barton claims his organization preserves America’s forgotten heroes. Robert Carter is one he might rather you forget.